While many things in modern life, from technology to politics, seem to get more complicated, today’s travelers are gravitating towards simplicity. Through a combination
of preference and necessity, the way people travel today is very different from how they
did so 20, 10, even five years ago. Suitcases are smaller. Laptops and tablets have supplanted briefcases stuffed with paperwork. Even the classic hotel breakfast buffet is largely ignored by those who prefer grab-and-go meals.
This drive towards simplicity is an insight Marriott International’s Aloft Hotels recognized early in its evolution. When Aloft debuted in 2005, it set itself apart from “select service” hotels that had long been dominated by a handful of chains offering services and design features that seemingly hadn’t been questioned in decades. Now, Aloft is doing it again. In preparing to unveil the latest iteration of the brand, Aloft’s designers set out to reimagine the way we interact with hotels, both inside and outside the room.
We spoke to Aliya Khan, Marriott’s VP of global design strategies, and Bridget Higgins, Aloft’s global brand leader, to discuss the hard decisions that go into creating a hotel experience that offers the simplicity today’s travelers crave, without skimping on the features and services they demand.
FastCo.Works: How do today’s travelers differ from those of the recent past?
Aliya Khan: [Airline] baggage fees mean that most people are trying to stick with a smaller carry-on suitcase, so people are traveling lighter, and that has a direct impact on what they need from a room. Big closets, bulky armoires—those go empty. We’re always looking to eliminate unused things taking up space in the room that could be used for something more functional or interesting. For instance, irons and ironing boards can be replaced by small steamers.
People also travel with more technology than ever: tablets, laptops, sometimes more than one phone. That translates to us needing to provide more outlets and USB ports in the room, but also gives us the ability to eliminate things like alarm clocks from the nightstand since everyone’s traveling with their own.
Bridget Higgins: Beyond the practical concerns, the mind-set has also evolved. Whether they’re on vacation or a business trip, everyone is looking to make the most of their experience, and they want to show it off to their friends. They’re looking for cool and unique design features and local flavor to post on their Instagram accounts. They don’t want to stay at a hotel that looks like it could be literally anywhere; they want something interesting and authentic to the city they’re in.
FCW: How does Aloft stay on top of these trends or traveler behaviors?
BH: Marriott does a lot of research on travel trends that are used to inform the design process for each brand, from more traditional consumer research to a broader but really deep look at what is out there in the world: in other hotels, in airports and airport lounges, in retail and fashion, in product design, technology, wellness. We look to be one step ahead in any area where we need to be serving our guests. I think we get good results because of the way we combine traditional insights with more unconventional trendspotting and research in the wild.
FCW: How do you translate all this info into design strategies for Aloft’s properties?
AK: We take our findings and go back and look at our room critically through the lens of the guest’s journey. We’re always evaluating what is a true need, versus something that’s there because it’s always been standard in hotel rooms, things like big desks, bathtubs, or wall-to-wall carpet. Our goal is to make sure everything in the room has a distinct purpose. That means we can stop including things like bed throws and accent pillows that have no real use, and instead offer clean, crisp, white beds that allow pops of color around the room to really shine.
FCW: How has the brand worked to evolve and simplify the public areas of the hotel?
BH: We’ve worked to make sure we’re designing and building features that are flexible, and in a way, that forces us to keep things simple. Until recently, most Aloft hotels had a traditional check-in desk, built for a traditional check-in process. But our use of technology has streamlined that process to the point where we can build a simple desk that could convert to a DJ booth or a retail corner in the future, depending on what we and our guests need.
AK: Similarly, we’ve adjusted our offerings for so-called “road warrior” business travelers, creating flexible space within the public and meeting areas that are useful for both work and play, whether they’re getting a group together for a brainstorm or drinks, or just need some solitude with their laptop for a couple of hours.
FCW: Is it a challenge to simplify while keeping that playful, design-centric sensibility Aloft is known for?
AK: In our most recent redesign, Aloft has truly gone back to the basic intent of a loft space, which is one of the design fundamentals of the brand. High ceilings, plenty of natural light, and a distinct lack of clutter are things our guests appreciate and expect. Nothing is extra. Nor is anything skimped. At the same time, we’re careful not to simplify so much it becomes boring. We always include details that convey the sense of fun and humor the brand is known and loved for, whether that’s an experience like live music at our W XYZ Bar, or a playful design touch like the sound wave light fixture that hangs over the communal table. It is beautiful to look at but it also mimics the sound wave created when the word Aloft is spoken.
This article was created for and commissioned by Aloft Hotels.